Saturday, July 11, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History  July 12

Amarillo Methodists Open New Church, Pay off Debt on Same Day, July 14, 1907

Of all the large cities of Texas Amarillo is the northernmost, and serves not just the Texas Panhandle, but also large sections of New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas as an important commercial and cultural center.  

Amarillo is also home to one of the great historic churches of Texas, Polk Street United Methodist Church.  On July 14, 1907 a congregation of 3000 worshiped for the first time in a new building.  There was still a $8400 debt on the $33,000 building, but Rev. C. N. Ferguson used the enthusiasm of the opening to ask for pledges to pay off the debt.  The appeal was successful as $9000 in cash and pledges came in on that one day. 

Methodism had grown up with the city of Amarillo.  In 1902 a church costing $4000 was erected at 802 Polk Street.  That church was insufficient as Amarillo boomed as ranchlands were converted to farming, and population increased. 

Polk Street hosted the Northwest Texas Annual Conference of 1907 and Bishop W. A. Candler the following November.  One should remember that in 1907 the Northwest Texas Conference embraced the entire territory of what is today the Northwest Texas and Central Texas Conference.  That meant that preachers and laity all the way from Round Rock and everywhere in between had to go to Amarillo for Annual Conference.

Just twenty years later, during the pastorate of L. N. Stuckey, the church moved again, this time six blocks to the south.  That 1928 building cost a half-million dollars—just in time for the Depression and Dust Bowl to reduce agricultural receipts and therefore Amarillo’s economy to a fraction of what it had been during the boom years of the 1920’s.  

Polk Street was able to withstand the economic problems, and during Eugene Slater’s pastorate (1953) it erected a $450,000 activity center.  Membership at one time exceeded 4500.  

Polk Street Methodist became known for its prominent preachers.  There was once a rule that preachers could stay in an appointment only four years.  The best-known preachers of that era developed a rotation system, in which the biggest churches rotated preachers among themselves.  Polk Street Methodist became one of the churches in that rotation and thus received preachers by transfer from other conferences.   In addition to Stuckey and Slater (later elected bishop) preachers filling the appointment were (among others) Sam Hay (also later bishop), Oscar Sensabaugh (see column from two weeks ago), Ira Key, Neal Cannon and several others ministers who provided leadership in other annual conferences and the entire denomination.   Polk Street UMC continues to value it heritage of ministry to the Texas Panhandle and beyond.


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